No family, no lawyer: Many kids in Delhi reform home clueless why they are there

Avantika Mehta, Hindustan Times, New Delhi  | Updated: Jul 25, 2014 10:21 IST

Most inmates at a juvenile observation home for boys in north Delhi have no access to legal assistance, and many don’t even know why they are lodged here.

These startling revelations have been made in an audit report on the condition of juveniles at Sewa Kutir in Kingsway Camp by the Delhi State Legal Services Authority – responsible for providing free legal aid counsel to those who cannot afford to hire private defence attorneys.

The audit report, commissioned by Shahdara District Legal Services Authority (SDLSA) and authored by legal aid advocate Abhishek Kumar, contains compelling stories of many inmates at various stages of trial.

Kumar went to the observation home under instructions from Jitendra Singh, secretary of SDLSA. He was told to ascertain the problems faced by the home’s 120 residents –all minors who have been in conflict with the law.

On his fact-finding mission, Kumar was told by an inmate from Mumbai that his parents were never informed of his arrest. The boy was a runaway, but now worries for his family who have no clue of his whereabouts. Kumar points out that this youngster cannot be given bail without a parent’s surety.

Another has been acquitted but not been allowed to leave the observation home because he’s an accused in a different case. Only, he has never been told what the charges against him are.

Many inmates complain that they have never met the legal aid counsels assigned to them. Some want to plead guilty, but have no idea how to do so. Others need bail, but are not aware of the advocates designated for them and, therefore, cannot move an application.

“The biggest problem was that most juveniles didn’t even know a lawyer had been assigned to them,” Kumar told HT.

“While some of them had trials in the initial stages –so perhaps the lawyers would meet them when they would be produced before the juvenile justice board – others had had several dates before the JJB and still didn’t know the lawyer DLSA had designated for their defence,” he added.

Member secretary of DLSA Dharmesh Sharma told HT that his office had received the report, and “was taking the matter very seriously”. Jitendra Singh has indicated that he will personally be visiting the observation home to address the worrisome allegations levelled by the minors.

Child rights advocate Anant Asthana believes that DLSA has long been aware of these problems in observation homes. This lack of legal aid for juveniles is exacerbated by “an overburdened juvenile justice board and legal aid lawyers with a huge workload,” he said.

Sewa Kutir had two functioning JJBs till 2010, when one was shut down. As a result, only two JJBs handle all the pending cases of juvenile delinquency in the Capital. “There’s an urgent need to increase the number of JJBs in Delhi,” said Asthana.

Apart from the Kingsway Camp facility there is only one other such observation home for boys in the Capital. Under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, the state government must maintain such homes in every district or group of districts for temporary reception of juveniles.